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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2022

Degree Type


Degree Name



Health Education

First Advisor

Noel Kulik

Second Advisor

Whitney Moore


Health behaviors and obesity are often overlooked in Emerging Adulthood (EA; ages 18-25). Weight Gain Anxiety (WGA) is a novel concept used to examine psychological factors contributing to healthy weight-related behaviors, emphasizing differences between WGA and fear of weight gain, body image concern, and generalized anxiety. Little is known about how emerging adults have shifted in their mental health status and weight-related behaviors since the onset of COVID. A nationally representative sample of emerging adults ages 18-25 (n= 450) participated in an online survey. Descriptive statistics, Confirmatory Factor Analysis and a two-way MANOVA followed by Descriptive Discriminant Analysis (DDA) were run to (1) Examine WGA as a measure and relationships with health behaviors, (2) how health behaviors changed as a result of COVID-19, and (3) to examine intrinsic health beliefs related to BMI and WGA. Overall, healthy behaviors decreased during the pandemic (M=-3.88). The CFA demonstrated good model fit (CFI=.95, TLI=.93, RMSEA=.076[.062-.089], SRMR=.060) and indicators of WGA significantly contributed to the latent construct. WGA was negatively correlated with healthy diet (R=-.14) and positively related to food acceptance (R=.59), but not related to physical activity (R=.05). Dietary habits were positively correlated with physical activity (PA; R=.28) and negatively with food acceptance (R=-.13). Food acceptance and PA were not correlated (R=.04) There was a significant interaction effect between BMI and WGA (F(20, 1433.73)=1.71, p=.027, Λ = .93, partial η2 = .019). The DDA revealed that this interaction effect was explained by perceived benefits of healthy behaviors (rs=93, B=.87). WGA is a novel construct that impacts health behaviors and health beliefs and was differentiated from similar concepts and defined in this dissertation. However, WGA did not relate to healthier behaviors as hypothesized. Additionally, health behaviors were reported to decrease during the COVID-19 pandemic, warranting investigation on how to buffer these effects. Finally, WGA and weight-related health behaviors were categorized into four groups, and these groups interacted with BMI categories. Participant perceptions of perceived benefits of healthy behaviors may be a gateway to understanding the interaction between WGA and BMI. Changes in health behaviors and mental health are two components of emerging adulthood that should be examined further in the context of WGA, diet, and COVID-19 to ensure appropriate supports are developed and implemented.

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